I’m sitting typing this from my room in the Boston Harbor Hotel watching the light fade over a really spectacular view of the harbor. We left home early this morning arriving at Paoli Station in Paoli, PA by auto. I had gotten some mixed signals from Septa about overnight parking and expected not to find the overnight payment slot where it should be which would have forced me to quickly alter travel plans. But it was there as promised. I deposited my $4.00 in a clearly marked envelope for parking space 20 and then patiently waited for the first train to 30th street as we watched the sun rise from the platform.
Septa was timely, and we were in motion by 6:30 heading for Philadelphia. The two gentleman in front of us had race bibs on and were heading into Philly for a 5K. The trip passed quickly as we talked.
It has been a while since I was at 30th Street Station. It is a stunningly beautiful building inside and harkens back to Victorian days when the well-monied of the world and really anyone who wanted to get anywhere beyond their back 40 rode the steel rails. Much has changed since then but the beautiful stations of yesterday still make you feel a little special.
We were over an hour early for our Amtrak train so had some coffee and took a load off for a bit. About 7:45 I suggested we form a line on our side of the “Gate 3” entrance where train 162 bound for Boston would board. I didn’t know if Amtrak’s plan was to have us get in line where we did but by the time they were ready to board 100 or so people had followed our lead so it was democratically decided we were boarding from the 30th street end of the gate.
The train was nearly filled and we had to schlep our bags through most of the train before the conductor found us a couple of seats together. We stowed our bags in the overhead and settled in for what turned out to be a very enjoyable ride North. My Grandfather was an engineer on the last passenger train out of Salem, NJ and my Dad & brother always had the train bug. David had fantastically elaborate HO layouts as a young man. I never really caught the bug but must admit that, being sick and tired of the arrogant world of commercial air travel and the burdensome yet ineffective TSA, train travel to a city like Boston is pretty relaxing and very pleasant. We rolled up the coast at exhilarating speeds past some beautiful scenery and magnificent homes.
Upon arrival at Boston’s South Station, we departed and quickly found a cab. The cabbie’s “assistant” (aka a local homeless man) very carefully and politely loaded our bags in the trunk and held the door for my wife who handed him a couple crisp dollars for which he was very grateful. In reality, it would be a fairly quick and easy walk from South Station to the Boston Harbor Hotel, but with a few bags along for our nearly weeklong stay, we opted for the $10.00 cab ride (tip included).
Now I usually don’t splurge on Hotels, nor do I necessarily stay at the Bug and Roach. But I have to say, the Boston Harbor Hotel is the NICEST hotel by far of any accommodation I have ever selected. Sure . . It isn’t cheap. But it’s Boston. Nothing is cheap. We actually booked through MarathonTours.com and got a pretty reasonable nightly rate. (When I say “pretty reasonable” that means I’ll only have to sell one kidney to pay for our 5 night stay.) But this will be a vacation for us and I decided early on since we’ve never visited Boston before, to stay downtown. Nothing was inexpensive.
Upon exiting the cab, one bellman grabbed our luggage from the trunk and whisked it inside, no less than 4 door man held the twin double doors for us, a bellhop was standing by to take us to our room, and we were quickly and efficiently checked in by a finely dressed young man who was genuinely excited for me that I was running my first Boston Marathon. I was really excited in turn when I found out about the 60′ salt water lap pool in the fitness center. Swanky.
We were taken to our room and greeted with, well . . . This.
We did not hang out long taking in the view. We were a little hungry and wanted to stretch our legs after the train ride. It was too late in the afternoon to bother rushing to packet pickup and the expo so we decided to walk to Boston’s North End, just a few blocks away. This is Boston’s Little Italy. It is filled with great Italian food, the Statue of Paul Revere and the Old North Church. (You remember. “The Britsh are coming”, “One if by land, two if by sea” and what not.)
It is also the home of Mike’s Pastrys. Evidently I’m the only person on the planet to never hear of Mike’s Pastrys. But after seeing the 10th or 12th Mike’s Pastrys box being carried by we decided we should check it out. But suddenly we saw something that looked like a looting or mob scene. There were a couple hundred people huddled around the entrance to a shop. Others were scurrying from the scene carrying boxes that said, um, Mike’s Pastrys. So this was it. Apparently the Valhalla of all baked things. Crazed Boston Marathoners were standing in line down the street waiting for one carb-laden cannoli. (I was going to take a picture but was afraid one of them might eat my phone.)
For the time being we passed on getting in line and moved on to find an early dinner. We hadn’t really eaten much on the train and decided “normal” dinner time might be a bit crazy. We wound up wandering into Cantina Italiana where we had an absolutely fantastic meal with a very Italian waiter. (That means we could barely understand a word he said.)
After dinner we walked back towards Mike’s Pastrys. A woman with a Boston Marathon jacket and a satisfied look appeared from the mass of people holding a pastry filled box. I caught her eye and asked “Is it really all that”? Without a second of hesitation she said “Yes! And the line goes really fast”. So of course we got in line and it did indeed go fast. We were fortunate enough to be near a couple of experienced “Mike’s Locals” and they talked us through what would be available and what was good. Bear in mind there was such a mass of people that despite standing on tip toes, craning my neck, and even jumping a couple times it was impossible to see the counter until you were actually standing at it. Black Friday sales have nothing on Mike’s. In the end we walked away with a huge cannoli, a couple yummy chocolate chips, and a Tiramisu. Gotta carbo load you know.
So that was our first day in Boston. Everything went smooth and according to plan. Uh oh. That scares me. I feel better about race day when I’ve forgotten something, miss a train, or have a foul up with hotel reservations. I was already a bit worried having not run a full marathon in nearly 18 months. Now I’m really concerned since nothing bad has happened so far. I almost wish I was staying at the same hotel as a couple of my favorite running friends where apparently there was a fire yesterday. That would have been a big relief. I do take consolation in the fact that I sat on my glasses on the train yesterday. They are now a mangled mess of wire and plastic hanging awkwardly from my face barely letting me see. (I won’t know what I’m actually typing here until my wife reads it.)
I would be remiss if I did not give a resounding recommendation to MarathonTours.Com and the Boston Harbor Hotel. For down town waterfront, Marathon Tours and the hotel gave us a really outstanding value in a place I never could or would otherwise have paid for. After we returned from dinner, we found two bags in our room with a banana, power bar, and Gatorade and a note explaining the hotel would have a special pasta dinner (not free) but more importantly offer a free shuttle to Boston Commons race morning. Outstanding.
Time for a quick warm-up jog.